Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement party. In 2016 voters re-elected Museveni to a fifth five-year term and returned a National Resistance Movement majority to the unicameral parliament. Allegations of disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission marred the elections, which fell short of international standards. The periods before, during, and after the elections were marked by a closing of political space, intimidation of journalists, and widespread use of torture by the security agencies.
The national police maintain internal security, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs oversees the police. While the army is responsible for external security, the president detailed army officials to leadership roles within the police force. The Ministry of Defense oversees the army. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government forces, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearance; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government agencies; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecution of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, which is punishable by life imprisonment or death. The law does not address spousal rape. The penal code defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under a section of the penal code that prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The law also criminalizes domestic violence and provides up to two years’ imprisonment for conviction.
Rape remained a common problem throughout the country, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. Local media reported numerous incidents of rape, often involving kidnapping and killings of women, but authorities were often unable to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. Local media often reported that perpetrators of rape included persons in authority, such as religious leaders, local government officials, UPF and UPDF officers, health-care workers, media personalities, teachers, and university staff. According to local media and local civil society organizations, rape victims often believed they were powerless to report their abusers, in part to avoid stigmatization. Civil society organizations and local media reported that, even when women reported cases of rape to the police, UPF officers blamed the women for causing the rape by dressing indecently, took bribes from the alleged perpetrators to stop the investigation and to pressure the victims into withdrawing the cases, or simply dismissed the accusations and refused to record them. According to civil society organizations, UPF personnel lacked the required skills for collection, preservation, and management of forensic evidence in sexual violence cases. Civil society organizations also reported that some police stations lacked female officers on the staff, which discouraged rape victims from reporting their cases. For example, on January 1, several women posted that radio presenter and employee of the state-owned Vision Group Charles Denzel Mwiyeretsi had raped or attempted to rape them. Vision Group’s chief executive said on January 2 that Mwiyeretsi would face a company disciplinary committee, but the company had not revealed details of its investigations by year’s end.
Women’s rights activists reported the government used the law to silence women and stop them from identifying their abusers online. On February 20, the UPF arrested university student Sheena Bageine, accusing her of cyberharassment and offensive communication after she posted the names of numerous men she alleged were rapists. The UPF released Bageine on February 21 without formally charging her.
Gender-based violence was common and became increasingly prevalent after March, when the government enforced a lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Civil society organizations reported the lockdown saw an increase in violent resolution of domestic disputes, which adversely affected women. On August 1, a 46-year-old teacher, Simon Shimanya, struck his wife with a pickax at their home in Kasangati, Kampala and killed her. On August 13, the UPF arrested Shimanya 200 miles from Kampala. On August 25, a court found Shimanya guilty of manslaughter and later sentenced him to 17 years in prison.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and establishes a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. According to the 2016 Demographics and Health Survey, 0.3 percent of the female population younger than age 50 had undergone FGM/C. On February 5, State Minister for Gender, Labor, and Social Development Peace Mutuuzo reported that persons practicing FGM/C had co-opted health-care workers, who allowed them to carry out the procedures in hospitals, to create the impression that it was safer. Minister Mutuuzo also reported that persons aspiring to political office in the 2021 general elections made public statements in support of FGM/C. Minister Mutuuzo also reported the government allocated 200 million Ugandan shillings ($54,000) to combat FGM/C but declared that this was only one-sixth of the required sum.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to local media and NGOs, violence against widows and acid attacks were prevalent. NGOs reported that widows in remote areas experienced sexual violence at the hands of their deceased husband’s family and lost their rights to property.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, but authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a widespread problem in homes, schools, universities, workplaces, public transport, public spaces, and in the music and entertainment industry. Local media reported numerous incidents of senior executives, public servants in the legislature and judiciary, and music producers who demanded sexual favors from female subordinates in exchange for job retention, promotion, and nomination for official trips. In March numerous emerging women musicians reported on television that music producer and songwriter Andrew Ojambo, also known as Daddy Andre, had attempted to or had forced them into sexual relationships with him at a studio in his bedroom as a precondition for recording or promoting their songs. Ojambo denied the allegations.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The law criminalizes abortion although the government seldom enforced these provisions. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and have access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion and violence. LGBTI organizations reported that some public health facilities discriminated against LGBTI persons seeking reproductive healthcare services. Family planning information and assistance were difficult to access, particularly in rural areas, where there were few healthcare providers.
Local media and civil society organizations reported that a government lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19, which prohibited public transport between March and July, prevented many women from accessing reproductive health services. Local media reported that as a result, women could not travel to healthcare providers to receive reproductive health services. Local media reported that the ban on public transport led to shortages of contraception in some parts of the country because there were no means for resupplying remote areas. The lockdown forced some reproductive health service providers to close after authorities denied them special permits to operate. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and local civil society organizations reported that men’s lack of support for, or active opposition to, family planning deterred some women from using contraception.
Local media and civil society organizations reported that the government lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 adversely affected access to skilled health attendants during pregnancy and childbirth. On March 30, the president banned all private passenger travel and directed that individuals seeking medical care travel only with written authorization from the resident district commissioner. This was rescinded for pregnant women on April 15, although the ban continued to be sporadically enforced. Local media reported several incidents of police officers and Local Defense Unit soldiers (a militia-like reservist corps) beating pregnant women found travelling to prenatal appointments without authorization. Local media reported that during the lockdown, some public health-care providers suspended neonatal and prenatal care services and turned away pregnant women because their staffs were unable to travel to their workplaces.
Maternal mortality was high at 375 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization and local civil society organizations. Media attributed the high rate to a lack of access to skilled medical care for pregnant women, a preference for traditional birth attendants over skilled medical workers, and unsafe abortions. According to UNFPA, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate was 36.3 percent. Female genital mutilation (FGM) occurred and, according to UNFPA, was a driver for obstetric fistula.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Local NGOs reported numerous cases of discrimination against women, including in divorce, employment, education, and owning or managing businesses and property. Many customary laws discriminate against women in adoption, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Under customary laws in many areas, widowed women cannot own or inherit property or retain custody of their children. Local NGOs reported that the government occasionally paid significantly less compensation to women than men in exchange for land it repossessed, while in some cases, it forcefully evicted women without compensation. Traditional divorce law in many areas requires women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. In some ethnic groups, men can “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers. The law does not recognize cohabiting relationships, and women involved in such relationships have no judicial recourse to protect their rights.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is criminalized according to a colonial-era law that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. Attempts to “commit unnatural offences,” as laid out in the law, are punishable with seven years of imprisonment. The government occasionally enforced the law. Although the law does not restrict freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly for those speaking out in support of the human rights of LGBTI persons, the government severely restricted such rights. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services.
LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, harassment, violence, and intimidation. Authorities incited, perpetrated, and tolerated violence against LGBTI individuals and blocked some meetings organized by LGBTI persons and activists. On July 19, local government authorities in Kyenjojo Town disrupted a meeting of LGBTI persons organized by the Western Uganda Faith-based Organizations Network, accusing it of breaching COVID-19 rules. Local civil society organizations reported that public and private health-care services turned away LGBTI persons who sought medication and some health-care providers led community members to beat LGBTI persons who sought health care. Local civil society organizations reported that some LGBTI persons needed to pay bribes to public health-care providers before they received treatment. According to civil society organizations, UPF and LDU officers–together with local government officials–raided the Children of the Sun Foundation shelter in Kyengera Town on March 29 and arrested 20 LGBTI persons, accusing them of violating COVID-19 public health guidelines by gathering in a closed space. Activists said the mayor of Kyengera, Abdul Kiyimba, personally beat two of the suspects “as he questioned them about their homosexuality.” Lawyers for the group reported prison authorities repeatedly denied them access to their clients while in pretrial detention, citing government restrictions on movement aimed at combatting COVID-19. On May 15, after the LGBTI persons’ lawyers filed suit, the UPS granted the lawyers access to the 20 LGBTI persons, two of whom stated UPS wardens subjected them to forced anal exams. On May 19, the UPS released 19 LGBTI persons, after the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution dropped all charges on May 15. The UPS released the final person on May 27. LGBTI activists reported on July 21 that they had sued the Kitalya prison deputy commander, Philemon Woniala, and Kyengera mayor Abdul Kiyimba for torture and inhuman treatment. The case continued at year’s end.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Mob violence remained a problem. Communities often resorted to mob violence due to a lack of confidence in the UPF and the judiciary to deliver justice. They attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, homicide, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Mobs often beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims. On May 3, local media reported that a community in Kakiri Town attacked a man they found in possession of a stolen handbag, beat him, and cut off one of his legs.